Eagle Editorial: Kobach deserves scrutiny

Those seeking the resignation or recall of Secretary of State Kris Kobach are unlikely to prevail. But they have a point about the serious problems with his election oversight, especially in Sedgwick County, and the need for accountability and change.

The county’s voters deserve to know their election office can handle elections. And they have reason to doubt that it can after the misrepresented totals and tardy returns of the Aug. 7 primary and Nov. 6 general election. The first confusing returns weren’t released until nearly 11 p.m. Nov. 6, after the suspense was over in the presidential election, and it was nearly 2 a.m. Nov. 7 before full results were available – long after candidates’ watch parties had ended.

Members of Kobach’s staff met Tuesday with Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman, one of her employees and a representative of a company that owns software used by the county office. Kobach plans to issue a report on last week’s debacle and make recommendations accordingly.

Let’s hope they deal with the reality, which is bigger than Lehman and her office’s poor performance on election night.

Since 2008, the office has seen its full-time employees cut from nine to four and its budget cut by 37 percent. Such reductions only look impressive so long as the job still gets done, and last week’s election suggests the cuts went too deep.

It’s a further frustration that the county’s 130 electronic poll books are so problematic that they may not be used for the municipal and school elections early next year – meaning $370,000 worth of equipment sitting idle.

Having appointed Lehman to the job last year, Kobach deserves as much scrutiny as she does.

Meanwhile, Kansans need to know that Kobach understands his job and is as committed to doing it as he is to fighting so-called voter fraud, writing other states’ anti-immigration laws and politicking. Even if he is as scrupulous as he claims about only doing his legal work on immigration matters in his spare time, should he really have time to spare if he’s doing the job Kansans elected him to do? (He also has a weekly radio show.)

Kobach is proving the point of critics of his political activity now that he’s involved in a court fight over provisional ballots with state Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka. She has been his most vocal opponent in the Legislature on voter ID. How does it look that Kobach’s political action committee spent $3,123 on a mailing supporting her challenger?

The state’s chief election official should have the good judgment to be above the fray, not chairing campaigns and funding candidacies.

Upon his election two years ago, Kobach pushed for passage of legislation requiring photo ID to vote and proof of citizenship to register by touting his commitment to having “the most secure elections in the nation.” Now he needs to commit to having the best-run elections in the nation.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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